'Cadillac deserves better,' says ad veteran Gary Topolewski

Bill Shea covers marketing and media issues for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.

Detroit advertising industry veteran Gary Topolewski knows a little something about Cadillac's advertising, which appears to be on the verge landing at Campbell Ewald.

Topolewski is credited with helping revive the General Motors luxury car brand with Led Zeppelin-pumping television commercials in the early 2000s in a campaign called "Breakthrough."

The ads first dropped during the 2002 Super Bowl with a CTS roaring to the band's high-energy anthem "Rock and Roll" -- announcing Cadillac's renewed presence with authority in the chase to overtake category leaders Lexus, BMW and Mercedes.

The ads were aimed at shedding the brand's stodgy, old, rich-white-guy reputation and instead targeting a younger, affluent audience by convincing them Cadillac was hip, edgy and a technology leader.

Its ads won industry praise and awards for Topolewski and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, the ad agency that became Chemistri and then Leo Burnett Detroit.

Today, Topolewski owns TBD Creative LLC in suburban Detroit and does work for Detroit-based ad agency Jackson and Partners.

Topolewski, who began his career as a copywriter at W.B. Doner & Co. in Detroit in 1981, also gets called on by the automakers and agencies to do consulting work.

He offered some thoughts on the Cadillac advertising situation this week:

"Cadillac deserves better. It's a fantastic, iconic brand up there with Apple and brands like that. It deserves better than what it's been getting," he said.

He was quick to point out that's not an indictment of Fallon, the incumbent agency that's had the Cadillac account since June 2010.

"It's a fantastic agency. I don't know why they haven't been able to rise to the level of what Cadillac deserves," he said. "It's not that Fallon doesn't respect the brand. They do. They gave up Chrysler to get it."

GM said Tuesday the Cadillac account is in review and sources familiar with the process have said Campbell Ewald is favored to win the business, but the deal has not been finalized.The suburban Detroit agency has announced plans to move its headquarters to downtown Detroit. 

Topolewski said Campbell Ewald, although a leaner agency than just a few years ago, has the right leadership in place to properly service the account in the form of CEO Bill Ludwig, whom Topolewski said is a personal friend.

"It's great that the (Caddy) brand will move back to Detroit. There are a lot of talented people at Campbell Ewald," he said. "I think they can raise that brand above 'another car company.' This brand has to rise above all the others. It goes above and beyond the other luxury brands because it was the first. It represents the American Dream, pure and simple."

He also said Cadillac has "great" cars on the market, which should (in theory) ease the ability to sell them to the public. But it's never easy.

"(The brand is) near and dear to my heart. I'm puzzled why Fallon couldn't do it," he said.

Fallon isn't alone. Since 2007, Cadillac's advertising has been with four agencies. And it now appears it's headed for a fifth in Campbell Ewald.

What that says to me is General Motors is unsure of what it wants from its luxury brand's marketing.

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